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    A Times Editorial

    A big hole in the Rays' lineup


    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 10, 2002

    Here's the positive spin being put on the departure of John McHale Jr. after only 10 months as chief operating officer of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays: The franchise's operations have improved so dramatically during his short tenure that McHale can leave for a job in the commissioner's office with complete confidence that the Rays will thrive in his absence.

    That sounds great, but Tampa Bay fans can't be blamed for remaining skeptical. The Rays are hurt as much as any team by the broader problems affecting baseball, beginning with financial and competitive imbalances among the franchises and yet another impasse in negotiations with the players' union. The Rays also have their own peculiar problems, which McHale had only begun to correct. Local support for the Rays has been disappointing, but the Tampa Bay community still hasn't had a chance to show whether it would support a franchise that avoids alienating its fans and sponsors, and puts a competitive team on the field.

    McHale had a positive effect here. He brought competence and credibility to the Rays' front office and mended fences within the organization and throughout the community. Managing general partner Vince Naimoli, who never saw the need for a chief operating officer until McHale was thrust on him by commissioner Bud Selig, said Thursday he now understands the importance of finding a replacement to take on the duties McHale is giving up. But in other comments, Naimoli still sounded in denial about his past problems with his partners and the community.

    McHale still may be able to influence the two issues that will be most important to the Rays' long-term stability. First, Naimoli should solicit McHale's help in conducting an outside search for a new chief operating officer who can command the same authority McHale brought to the job. No one currently in the Rays organization fits that description.

    Second, McHale may have a positive influence on baseball's stalled labor negotiations. Paul Beeston, whose resignation as baseball's president and chief operating officer set in motion the events that led to McHale's job switch, was faulted by many owners for having been too conciliatory in his role as management's chief negotiator with the players union. Beeston's departure is a troubling sign that many owners are still stuck in the hard-line stance that backfired on them during every previous labor negotiation.

    McHale's experience and demeanor could be assets as negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement continue. Baseball can't afford another work stoppage, and players and owners can't afford to keep blaming each other for their shared problems. The future of the Rays and several other franchises depends on a new agreement that produces real revenue sharing and encourages greater competitive balance. If the Rays do a good job of replacing McHale, and if the players and the owners reach an equitable collective bargaining agreement, Tampa Bay might show itself to be a good baseball town after all.

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